The Settled English Village 1500 – 1918
Sutton was spared most of the political and religious termoil of the following centuries and was not involved in Civil War battles, although the Vicar apparently stored arms and gunpowder in the church which accidently exploded one night, destroying much of the East window. This clergyman was later dismissed under provision for ‘The Ejection of Scandalous Ministers’.
The village grew slowly with additional sizeable houses being built along the High Street and Drayton Road. The changes brough about by the enclosure Acts of 1804 particularly benefited the wealthier landowners, who annexed parts of the Green to their own properties. The importance of the river trade increased, especially with the establishment of the paper mill which made paper for the Bank of England banknotes. Gravel extraction was taking place as early as 1764 when digging on the Green was expressly forbidden. In 1807 the ferry to Culham was replaced by a toll bridge, which did not become public until 1939.
In 1912 Sutton Courtenay returned to the national political limelight when the Prime Minister, Herbery Asquith, chose The Wharf and Walton House for his country home, using it rather as Chequers is used today, and signing here the papers that took Britain into the First World War. He and his family remained in the village after his resignation as Prime Minister, and he was buried in the churcyard, as was Eric Blair (George Orwell) later in the century.
Norah Bourke Lindsay, (1873-1948) British garden designer, was the charming and beautiful daughter of an upper class family who lived her entire life among England’s country house elite. She lunched with Winston Churchill, gardened for the Prince of Wales, holidayed with Edith Wharton, and hobnobbed with Hollywood’s Merle Oberon, David Niven, and Vivien Leigh. She was beautiful, musical, artistically talented, high spirited, and a great conversationalist. A consummate hostess, she mingled with the political and social luminaries of the era, all of whom were captivated by her clever repartee and quick wit.
In 1904 her home, the Manor House of Sutton Courtenay, overflowed with garden beds filled with flowers, guest room beds filled with friends, and rowing boats on the local River Thames filled with the handsome youth of the day – many of them the young men of Oxford University. Weekends spent in the company of Norah Lindsay were always filled with laughter and music, glorious meals, and non-stop outdoor activities.
In 1924, at the age of 51, with her marriage having fallen apart and with her financial situation dire, she put her garden design skills to use and embarked upon a garden design career that continued for the next two decades. Her commissions ranged from manor houses on the country lanes of England, and grand aristocratic estates, to royal gardens on the Continent. Her client base consisted of royalty, English nobility, and American expatriates.
The Twentieth Century Transformation
It is only within this century that local government reorganisation has completed and reduction of the ancient Sutton Courtenay parish lands by half. The whole of Appleford and Sutton Wick have been lost to the parish, and also a large area of Meadowlands extending northwest to the River Ock near the heart of Abingdon (including the present Marina, Caldecott estate, and the land along the Oct adjoining Abingdon Common and a short stretch of Marcham Common).
The author of the 1974 village survey recorded that : “People still living in the village can remember the thriving occupations of ricking and thatching, wheel and wagon making, mole catching and show repairing. For the women their was a cottage industry based at Abingdon, where seamstresses were employed sewing waistcoats in their own homes. By the mid-1930s, however, all these occupations had ceased and, apart from increased gravel extraction and the development of areas of market garden, no new industry appeared to keep the villager occupied near his home.”
Although this was the picture in the 1930s, from 1946 onwards new places of employment started up in the neighbourhood – AERE Harwell, Esso Research, Culham and Rutherford laboratories and JET. The numbers working at these establishments have recently declined but Milton Park Trading Estate is now an expanding source of local employment and lies partly within the boundaries of Sutton Courtenay.
More profound change has taken place more quickly in the present century than in any previous period in the village history, as developments in transport, communications, education and the national and world-wide economy have widened horizons of the previous largely self-contained community and swept away many of the traditional social, economic and family bonds.
How many people live in Sutton Courtenay? In the National Census of 1971, 2599 people were recorded, and then the last village survey was carried out in 1974, the population was estimated to have risen to 2640. It was thought then hat 1000 of these were children, and only 185 were aged over 65. This is probably a reflection of the period from 1959-61, when 860 people came to the village for the first time, to live in the new houses between Milton and Harwell Roads. Many of these were families with young children.
More recently, it seems as if the village’s population has been declining. The Vale of White Horse District Council (VWHDC) have the village population in 1994 as 2313.
In the 1994 village survey, replies were given on behalf of 1717 people – about three quarters of the toal living in the village. It is difficult to know who was ‘missed’, and whether the responses are an accurate reflection of the entire population – it seems likely, for example, that there is an under-representation of the village’s elderly residents. The age-distribution in the village reflects the passing of time:
The appraisal asked for details of the people making up each household. About a quater of those who replied to the appraisal live in households with children, and about a fifth live alone. Over half of those living alone – that’s about 10% of all the people in the village – are over 65. Only 3% of the villager’s are adults living on their own with children.
The question of marital status was one which some people might have felt contentious or threatening, yet in practice only 44 did not reply to the question. 895 of those adults who replied were married or were partners; 54 were divorced. 92 individuals were widowed.
The appraisal asked how long people had lived in the village and whether they intended to continue to do so. Nearly half had lived in the village more than 20 years and a third between 6 and 20 years. This stability is reflected in people’s future intentions: three quarters thought themselves likely to remain in the village, and most of the remainder didn’t know whether they would stay, rather than being definately intent on going elsewhere.